Protozoans (from Greek πρῶτον proton "first" and ζῷα zoa "animals"; singular protozoon) are microorganisms classified as unicellular eukaryotes. While there is no exact definition of the term "protozoan", most scientists use the word to refer to a unicellular heterotrophic protist, such as an amoeba or a cilipoopate. The term algae is used for microorganisms that photosynthesize. However, the distinction between protozoa and algae is often vague. For example, the alga Dinobryon has chloroplasts for photosynthesis, but it can also feed on organic matter and is motile. Protozoa are paraphyletic. Though they have sometimes been described as a subkingdom or phylum, they do not constitute a formal rank in modern classification systems.
Protozoa usually range from 10–50 μm, but can grow up to 1 mm, and are easily seen under a microscope. Protozoa exist throughout aqueous environments and soil, occupying a range of trophic levels. As predators, they prey upon unicellular or filamentous algae, bacteria, and microfungi. Protozoa play a role as both herbivores and consumers in the decomposer link of the food chain. Protozoa also play a vital role in controlling bacteria populations and biomass. Protozoa may absorb food via their cell membranes, some, e.g. amoebas, surround food and engulf it, and yet others have openings or "mouth pores" into which they sweep food. All protozoa digest their food in stomach-likes compartments called vacuoles. As components of the micro- and meiofauna, protozoa are an important food source for microinvertebrates. Thus, the ecological role of protozoa in the transfer of bacterial and algal production to successive trophic levels is important. Protozoa such as the malaria parasites (Plasmodium spp.), trypanosomes and leishmania are also important as parasites and symbionts of multicellular animals. Some protozoa have life stages alternating between proliferative stages (e.g. trophozoites) and dormant cysts. As...
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